Although Pisa is in parentheses, it actually was the reason for this excursion. After the fiasco that was Rome, we seriously discussed cancelling our other planned excursions. But we knew that Sean had his heart set on seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so we decided we would take our chances with this excursion and cancel our train tour of Nice the following day to remain on the ship. Guest services gets very anxious when you cancel an excursion. And when you tell them you are cancelling it due to a bad experience in Rome, well, then they want to know all about it. As in, they set up a meeting with you and the head of entertainment, which encompasses excursions, and he wants to hear all about what went wrong in Rome. And he is extremely apologetic and gives you a full refund of the Nice excursion, even though generally excursions are non-refundable after a certain point.
So. Florence. Our tour guide was also a woman, and we think she was a retired school teacher. She had her attendance list, and if at any point the number of her flock did not add up, she literally took attendance to determine who was missing! Her accent was much easier to understand but I still found I seemed to be missing some key points. For example, the Ponte Vecchio. It seemed to be extremely significant, but I completely missed the WHY? But I was a good tourist and took a photo of it regardless. This was a city tour, and I think Florence needs much more than a half day to be fully appreciated. She pointed out museums and art galleries, and I could sense Stephen itching to sneak off and explore an art gallery or five, but alas, it was not to be. Our Border Collie guide herded us along most efficiently. We saw religious statues, churches, a cathedral or two, bridges, museums, galleries and much more – just all from the outside, though I believe we did go in one church. Lunch is what I remember best about Florence. Well, lunch and the overwhelming crowds. We had the option to have her make us a reservation at a little restaurant she recommended (as in, she got a kickback from the owner, who was probably her cousin). We figured that was the safest option, rather than trying to find something on our own, and I’m so glad we did that. The restaurant had several little rooms, all interconnected and we were seated in a small back room where there were about 7 tables. The waitress came to take our drink order and Sean and I both asked for Diet Coke – actually, Coke Light, as it is known in Europe. We had commented the day before that we had had no difficulty finding Diet Coke in any of the restaurants. No one had come back at us with that annoying “Is Diet Pepsi OK?” Until Florence. That poor waitress. We asked for our Coke Light and for the first time in Europe we heard, “Is Pepsi Light ok?” All three of us burst out laughing, much to her confusion. We ordered our lunch and admired the decor while we waited. One thing we kept noticing was that the lights would periodically go off, then come back on. We realized it happened only when someone went to the bathrooms at the back of the room. We concluded it must be because the light switch was confusing and people thought they were turning on the bathroom light when they were actually turning off the room lighting. Lunch was delicious. Sean and I both had spaghetti and meatballs and thoroughly enjoyed it. After dinner I braved the bathroom light situation – and just like everyone else, turned off the main lighting by mistake! One would think the switch right outside the bathroom door would be for the bathroom? No, no it’s not.
After lunch we had free time to explore, and then it was back to our bus to make our way to Pisa. Now, truthfully, I’m not quite sure what, exactly, I expected of Pisa. But somehow it didn’t quite measure up to what I had anticipated. We were dropped off at the outskirts of a pedestrian area and left to make our own way to the site. Easy enough to do – just follow the general flow of humanity. We came round a corner and there in a big open field were the three buildings – baptistry, cathedral and bell tower. And thousands of tourists. We walked along the roadway towards the leaning tower, but decided it was just too far along to go any further in the heat. We took the requisite shots of each of us holding up the tower and agreed to head back in search of ice cream. Our guide gathered us all up, herded us all on the bus and blessedly let us fall asleep on the way back to our ship.
The next day, while everyone else romped off to Nice, we stayed aboard the ship and relaxed and enjoyed the amenities. And unfortunately, the next day was back to Barcelona and off the ship. We spent that night in Barcelona and headed for home the next day, our thrilling European vacation now just memories of wonderful shared experiences.